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Public weighs in on Chaco Canyon oil and gas drilling ban

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The Bureau of Land Management held an online question and answer session February 24 to explain its proposed plan to ban new oil and gas leases around the historic Chaco Culture National Historical Park, and take questions.

Dozens of people attended to hear more about the plan announced by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland last year. The meeting was part of a 90-day consultation period.

Some people said the consultation was hampered because not enough translation into Native languages was available. Others pointed out that although the new plan would ban new leases, there are more than 200 active wells in the proposed area, and they could continue operating for up to three years.

One participant, Rebecca Sobel, asked if the damage already done would be addressed.

"These impacts include but aren't limited to air and water quality, orphaned or abandoned wells, public health and environmental impacts," she said.

And some asked what plans there were to help people in the Chaco area transition away from a fossil fuel economy.

BLM official Jillian Aragon said the consultation was ongoing and open to suggestions about how to improve, and get, "feedback from our tribal nation partners to tell us their thoughts on maybe ways we could do better."

Formal comment on the process can be submitted online by following this link.

Alice Fordham joined the news team in 2022 after a career as an international correspondent, reporting for NPR from the Middle East and later Latin America and Europe. She also worked as a podcast producer for The Economist among other outlets, and tries to meld a love of sound and storytelling with solid reporting on the community. She grew up in the U.K. and has a small jar of Marmite in her kitchen for emergencies.